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BW Businessworld

Big Brother Watching

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In one of the works by legendary ducumentray filmmaker John Pilger in the 1970s, the late Czech novelist Zdenek Urbánek said: Unlike you in the West, we've learned to look behind the propaganda and to read between the lines, and unlike you, we know that the real truth is always subversive.  Urbánek here, was reffering to how people in dictatorial regimes reacted to media propaganda of the state. The people, he went on to say know exactly what to believe and what not to believe. But more than the act of believing or not believing lies the conviction that "the real truth is always subversive." These few words of Urbánek makes us think that the truth is always unpalatable and difficult to digest. Truth can be not only a conviction but also a statement of what is correct or logically validated irrespective of whether a state is dictatorial or democratic. Does censorship supresses the truth or expression of the truth? This is exactly what Frank Caso's book Censorship does sans the fear of erasures and cuts. A book on censorship that gives a clear verdict: Censorship supresses human expression. It is worth noting here that all expressions may not be the truth.

In an attempt to pronouce the verdict, Caso has textually traversed into distant historical paths between the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi in  China and the 21st century cyber age. Each period covered is enlivened by characters and events/cases with goaded plots. So what is common between Socrates, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Wole Soyinka and Salman Rushdie? They have all faced censorships or some kind of censorship of their ideas and works. In an attempt to cover everything on Censorship around the world, Caso has divided his work into three parts, dealing with issues in the United States of America (US) and the world in the first part followed by US and  International documents on censorship. The last part is a very useful guide to how research can be conducted on Censorship.

Supposed to be prevalent only in authotarian and dictatorial regimes throughout history, censorship still continues to haunt us even in the 21st century. This include states that have proclaimed liberal and social democracies as their core value. And here, it is not only the state that acts as the gate keeper of ideas and views. For instance,  it has been reported that J K Rowling's Harry Potter series had been the seventh most challenged books for the deacde between 1990 to 2000. The Christian Right in America argues that the Rowling's best selling work promoted witchcraft and portrayed Christians in a negative way. Many Conservative Christains in the US had banned the books from schools and also removed the same from school libray selves. Beyond the state, there are also powerful groups that can impose or suppress human expressions.

Caso's work primarily focusses on the role of the state in enforcing censorships though there are historical snippets of other non-state powers, mainly religious groups that have played stumbling blocks in free human expressions and dissenting views. It also makes an attempt to cover what censorships had done to books, plays, films, television, radio programs, news reports, and other forms of communication with the sole idea of either altering or suppressing information and views deemed objectionable or offensive. Historically, there has always been "ideologies" that support curtailing one's ideas or infromation. These idelogies have strong support from customs, taboos, or laws enacted based on these very traditions. The idea of regulation expressed by the state or powerful groups reinforces the staus qou or prevailing orthodoxy. If Socrates was made to drink hemlock in Athens, it was none other than Plato who was responsible for devising censorship rules with his "The  Republic". A discerning reader who is looking for an indepth polemic on the merits and demerits of censorship or the subersive power of truth as distinct from political or social power, will have to look for another supplement. Caso's Censorship, however is a  handy book for anyone who wants to know what censorship is all about. And this work is not listed in the index librorum prohibitorum anywhere.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 13-12-2010)